It is no secret the tumultuous events of the previous year have dramatically shifted the ways we create and consume media, with countless film festivals and major studio releases being moved online. As a result, a seemingly equal number of projects centered around the global quarantine have likewise popped up in the zeitgeist, such as Rob Savage’s Host and Ryan Oksenberg’s Nothing is Wrong and New Not Normal. Providing a phenomenal stage to virtually any subgenre, the one thing that seems to be a constant plot mechanic throughout many of these titles is an online video chat service akin to Zoom and Skype. This combination of elements provides the basis for the thriller mini-series Riddles of Dzoom, an eight-part narrative by Rachele Fregonese, which aims to accomplish a lot with a little and doesn’t manage to stick the landing.
Taking place during the early days of the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown, six friends, who colloquially went by The Brunettes in grade school, all reconnect via Zoom. While there are initially a few pleasantries exchanged, the meeting quickly devolves into a dangerous game of riddles between them and a supposedly deceased classmate, who accuses the women of her murder via the chatbox. While members of the group start getting picked off in unconventional ways, the remaining ones struggle between selling each other out to save their own lives or sacrificing themselves for the others to live.
The central concept behind the series is quite sound, with the format of online video chatting providing a lot of opportunities to experiment with the typical thriller model. However, even though the narrative impresses, coming across like the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter from “The Hobbit” meets Cry_Wolf, the storytelling seldom goes beyond six people talking and staring into the camera. While this isn’t an intrinsically bad decision, and while I can accept the many genre pitfalls in which Riddles of Dzoom falls into as being par for the course, the filmmaking techniques utilized are not succinct and polished enough to suspend enough of my disbelief.
“…the meeting quickly devolves into a dangerous game of riddles between them and a supposedly deceased classmate…”
The series never takes advantage of typical glitches and errors during video calls, which could easily introduce more suspenseful elements to the mix while keeping the experience somewhat grounded to maximize its immersive qualities. Instead, the editing is wholly unreactive to the needs of each scene and exacerbates the frustratingly inconsistent pace. Between the ill-placed exposition dumps, confusing timeline of events referenced by the characters, and shark jumps in both world and human logic, the story quickly falls apart. This is especially true when (at the series climax) the final revelations become downright ludicrous. The explanations given are only vaguely built upon in the preceding episodes, so fairly little comes out as organic characterization and plot mobility.
Also, while I am assuming that the cast is composed of stage-trained actors (as Pro Actors London, a community of actors based in London, is credited as the troupe behind the show), their performances do not transfer well to screen. This is compounded by the off-timed editing making conversations awkward and nearly robotic in delivery—I wasn’t really sold on anything that happens.
While there are a few interesting flashes within its theming and core concept, that’s mostly where the redeemable qualities falter out for me. Riddles of Dzoom is plagued by rough technical edges, lackadaisical direction, and overly cliche writing, making the mini-series rather difficult to slog through, despite its relatively short runtime.
"…plagued by rough technical edges, lackadaisical direction, and overly cliche writing..."